Pistons comeback falls short in loss to Hawks
Atlanta — For three quarters, it looked like another game.
More of the same.
In seven of their last eight defeats, the Pistons had lost by double figures.
It had become maddeningly repetitive for the Pistons and coach Stan Van Gundy: They’d stay close in the first quarter. They’d get down by double digits. They’d lose by double digits.
The Pistons dropped their second straight game — with a somewhat familiar refrain — until the late comeback fell short in the final minutes of a 105-98 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night at Philips Arena.
The lead jumped from 10 at halftime to 17 in the first two minutes of the third quarter, but the Pistons (15-20), chipped away and got it down to four with about four minutes left.
“We did have a lot more fight in us. We should have never gotten down 17, so I can’t excuse the way we started the third quarter,” Van Gundy said. “We didn’t let it go and we fought right until the end and got a little better spirit and fight and enthusiasm.
“If we continue with that and hopefully we play better at the offensive end of the floor, then we’ve got a chance to move forward. There were some good things.”
Jon Leuer had 22 points, Reggie Jackson 20 points and eight assists and Andre Drummond 15 points and 15 rebounds for the Pistons, who look to turn things around when they start the new year in Miami on Sunday.
The Hawks (17-16) had a 74-62 lead at the end of the third quarter and the Pistons chipped away with a 7-2 spurt, including a turnaround drive by Stanley Johnson, two free throws by Aron Baynes and a 3-pointer by Tobias Harris (14 points).
Atlanta pulled back ahead after a flurry, with a pair of 3-pointers by Kyle Korver, to stretch the lead back to 84-72 with 8:44 left. The Pistons followed with their own surge, scoring nine points over the next three minutes.
Drummond hit a pair of free throws, Harris hit another 3-pointer and Leuer drove the baseline for a two-handed dunk, cutting the lead to 87-81 at the 5:57 mark. It was the first time since the second quarter that the deficit was in single digits.
The teams traded free throws — two by Paul Millsap (26 points, six rebounds, five assists) and two by Jackson, but Dennis Schroder (17 points and seven assists) hit a 3-pointer to push it back to a nine-point advantage.
Leuer answered with a 3-pointer with 4:46 left to get it back to a six-point lead. The Pistons got their closest after Jackson converted a driving lay-in to make it 92-88. But Dwight Howard tipped in an alley-oop pass and was fouled; he converted the three-point play and made it a five-point bulge with 4 minutes remaining.
Drummond added a dunk but didn’t get any closer.
Howard (10 points, 15 rebounds) had a tip-in and Millsap put the game away with a layin for a 99-90 lead with 1:23 left.
“At the start of the second half, we kind of gave it up a little bit, but we didn’t back down,” Caldwell-Pope said. “We kept fighting and brought it within (four). (The comeback) just died toward the end.”
In the first quarter, the Pistons stayed close, behind Leuer’s eight points in the period. He had an alley-oop from Jackson, a putback and scored on a reverse lay-in. The Hawks had a 10-2 run, with a 3-pointer by Mike Muscala, a drive by Schroder and back-to-back baskets by Millsap, including a three-point play to make it 18-13 with 1:32 left in the quarter.
The Pistons started 26 percent (6-of-23) from the field to that point, but ended the quarter with a floater by Caldwell-Pope, a drive by Johnson and a baseline jumper by Leuer to regain the lead.
Korver (22 points) got hot in the second quarter, with three straight free throws and a jumper for a 26-21 lead.
The Pistons missed their first 11 3-point attempts and finally got one to go when Smith converted with 5:42 left in the quarter, cutting the lead to 38-34 after a three-point play by Howard. Leuer added a 3-pointer and the Pistons looked to take the lead, but Howard was fouled making a putback and after he missed the free throw, Millsap got the offensive rebound and was fouled. He converted both free throws, to boost the lead back to five. Atlanta finished on a 9-2 spurt and had a 51-41 halftime lead.
Marcus Morris sat out the game because of a sore left knee and Harris started in his place.